Wednesday, April 04, 2007

There They Go Again, Part XXVUR

David Ignatius, in today's Wash Post:

...The United States is losing a war in Iraq, yet instead of uniting around a policy that could reduce the damage and create a sustainable strategy for the future, Congress and the White House are on a collision course over funding for the troops.


The Democrats' problem is that they seem determined to join the Bush administration in doubling down bad bets on Iraq. In the Democrats' case, the mistaken gamble is that by imposing a Washington timetable for troop withdrawal, America will compel good behavior from the fratricidal Iraqis. That idea is naive. But then, so is the Bush administration's politically divisive strategy for an open-ended troop surge in Baghdad. No matter how clever Gen. David Petraeus's battle plan, it won't work unless it can be sustained politically, in Baghdad and Washington. The crucial asset for Petraeus is time, which in turn is a function of political consensus at home. And that asset is wasting, even as the number of U.S. troops goes up.

Here we return to Hamilton, co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, and his partner on the other side of the bipartisan hyphen, former secretary of state James A. Baker III. Four months after its release, the Baker-Hamilton report still looks like the best way to unite Democrats and Republicans before there is a dangerous collision over funding for the war. The report has something for everyone: It shares the Democrats' goal of withdrawing most U.S. troops by March 2008 and stresses the need for milestones in Iraq. But it endorses the Bush administration's view that milestones should be jointly negotiated with the Iraqi government, rather than imposed by Washington. And it recognizes that troop withdrawals must be contingent on political and military conditions on the ground.

The Baker-Hamilton report focused on the need for a sustainable policy -- one that would make Iraq an American project rather than George W. Bush's war. That requires a shift in military strategy from U.S. combat operations to a counterinsurgency approach centered on training and advising the Iraqi military. But the study group, composed of five Democrats and five Republicans, also said it could "support a short-term redeployment or surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad, or to speed up the training and equipping mission."

The most controversial aspect of the Baker-Hamilton report was its call for greater American diplomatic engagement in the region, including talks with Iran and Syria and a new push on the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Four months later, Bush administration officials have sat around a table in Baghdad with Syrians and Iranians, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is beginning a serious effort to midwife the birth of a Palestinian state, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is visiting Damascus. We're all Baker-Hamiltonians now.

The Baker-Hamilton report offered a way out of the partisan wilderness when it was released in December. It still does. It provides an Iraq platform on which responsible Republicans and Democrats can gather. Neither side will get everything it wants, but both can claim a measure of support for their positions. That's the essence of building consensus.

A train-wreck debate on Iraq will be destructive for both parties, not to mention the people in the Middle East. The Baker-Hamilton report is the best framework for building a policy that is sustainable, in Washington and in Baghdad. Leading Republicans and Democrats say that, in principle, they still support Baker-Hamilton. So do something about it.


Sigh. Where to start?

How about by noticing Ignatius's selection and repetition of Very Responsible words? First, there's Sustainability or a variation of such. Today's chicken-little op-ed gives us four of them big daddies.

I particularly liked the two references to Consensus, another Very Reponsible word. To Consensus is added Uniting or Unite, which can be thought of as a companion to Consensus. Correlaries include use of the word Gather, when depicting what Responsible Democrats and Republicans should do, for the good of their parties, for the good of America, and for the good of America's professional op-ed column writing class that hates all the bickering and is fearful of a trainwreck debate on Iraq.

And of course, the word Responsible gets a cameo appearance in the Very Responsible word game.

But let's turn to the various straw-men and false choices Ignatius offers us. First, he claims that the Democrats' call for withdrawal, or the setting of a withdrawal deadline, is a "mistaken gamble" designed to scare the Iraqi government straight. It won't work, says Ignatius. Now, he may be correct that some Democrats think a firm deadline will motivate the Iraqis to co-operate with each other better. But the sense I get from listening to Democrats in favor of withdrawal is that the goal is end American military involvement in Iraq, save American lives, and let the Iraqi's go on with the task of solving their own problems. So, I think Ignatius's allegation here is just bupkis designed to prevent anyone from making a decision on leaving Iraq or to at least stifle the "partisan debate" in Washington, which is what I think Ignatius really worries about. I suspect that if the war was going badly, but Republicans still controlled Congress, Ignatius wouldn't be at all concerned.

The second laugher Ignatius throws our way is his claim that a happy middle ground is to accept Baker-Hamilton's plan to set a "goal" of withdrawing American troops by March 2008 together with establishing suitable "milestones" for the Iraqi government to meet, but to ignore both in case "political and military conditions on the ground" aren't up to snuff by March 2008, in which case we can just keep doing the same ole thing.

I don't know about you, but I'm heartened that such Wise Men are in charge of informing us about our government and the world.

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